Recently, I was reminded of this as I read Philippians 1:2-4. As odd as it may sound, I couldn't help but think that many Christians suffering with a chronic illness have their own three-letter word: joy. If we're honest, joy is a word that most people hate to hear when they are suffering. No one wants to think about being filled with joy when they are in so much pain that they can't get out of bed. No one wants to be joyful when they have no energy to get dressed in the morning. No wants to think about joy when they have a stack of medical bills but the money isn't in the bank. Joy might as well be one million dollars, it's so hard to come by.
Stop and think about it. What is joy? If you look at the original Greek word used in Philippians 1:4, it literally means "to delight, be glad, rejoice." I don't know about you, but when my greatest accomplishment of the day is brushing my hair because I'm so sick, I find it difficult to rejoice. There's nothing delightful about being chronically sick, yet God tells us over and over again throughout Scripture to be filled with joy. In fact, the book of Philippians is known as the "letter of joy" because in four short chapters, Paul uses the word joy sixteen different times. But surely Paul didn't mean people who are suffering should be joyful? If he understood what it's like to be chronically sick, he wouldn't be able to rejoice, or would he?
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, Paul describes some of the suffering he had to endure. According to Paul, he had been imprisoned numerous times, whipped fives times, beaten with rods three times, stoned, shipwrecked on three separate occasions, starved, thirsted, and forced to flee from a king who wanted to kill him. If anyone had a right to be joyless, it was Paul, yet he is the one who wrote the "letter of joy." So what was his secret?
Verses three and four of Philippians chapter one tells us. Paul said that he thanked God and always offered prayer with joy. Paul knew an important secret and he graciously shared it with everyone. No matter what was happening, Paul found something for which he could be thankful, and he prayed thanking God for these things. I don't think this means Paul was grateful for the suffering he had to endure, but he was thankful for a God who never left his side. If nothing else, Paul was ever thankful for the salvation freely given to him by Christ's work on the cross.
As I think about all Paul endured and how he remained joyful, I am humbled by how often I've failed to be filled with joy. Living with a chronic illness is hard; there's no denying this fact. Yet there is always something for which we can thank God. He has saved us from our sins, He loves us when we don't deserve it, He gives us the strength to endure, and He alone can put a song in our hearts when we suffer.
We all have at least one thing in our lives we can be thankful for today. I challenge you to make a list of all these things, and then ask you that you take the time to thank God. He is worthy of our praise! When we keep this in mind, joy will no longer be a three-letter word.
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my prayer for you all." ~ Philippians 1:2-4 (NASB)
(c) June 24, 2012